WITH 13 senior professionals out of contract in the summer at Brisbane Road, any superstitious members of Martin Ling's Orient squad will certainly be avoiding black cats and ladders until May.

O's chief Ling has already lain down the gauntlet, telling his squad that if they can't cut the mustard he "won't hesitate to fetch in new players over the summer".

So with the ever growing football scrapheap beckoning for some players, the Guardian decided to catch up with a trio of out-of-contract Orient stars this week to find out the kind of pressure they are under at the moment.

Guardian columnist and highly regarded defender Matt Lockwood believes that in the post-ITV Digital era players will have to reconsider their salary expectations, at the very least.

He said: "Since the collapse of ITV Digital and with the wage capping structure now in place, it seems like the power has shifted back to the clubs. So obviously we have got to be a lot more realistic now with the kind of salaries we are looking for, particularly with so many other players throughout the country in a similar position.

"It is a very important time for us, because if you don't perform on the pitch you won't get a new contract. And if that doesn't happen at Orient you have to wonder were we are left to go from there? You only have to look at Andy Harris, who since leaving us last year is struggling to get into the Chester side in the Conference and both Jeff Minton and John Martin, who despite being very good players, had to drop down into the Ryman League."

Meanwhile, Ciran Toner, who's match winner on Saturday lifted Orient into the top half of the table, explained that after finding it difficult to get back in the team following three months out injured the situation had been playing firmly on his mind.

He said: "I did think about being out of contract because it's my career and I was back training for five weeks without a sniff of a start.

"So I'm pleased to be back in the team now, but I know I've got to keep working hard because there are people who will come in and take your place. So it's up to me and every other player who is in a similar position to play well week in week out and that's all you can do."

Young hot shot Jabo Ibehre is also fully aware that he needs to rediscover the form that saw him regarded as one of the hottest properties in the Third Division when he burst on to the scene at the end of the 2000/01 campaign.

He said: "I know exactly what is being asked of me, because with so many people dropping out of the game every year you have really got to perform if you want to stay involved in professional football.

"I've had some problems with injuries again this season and I've been disappointed that when Martin Ling has given me my chance in the last two games I haven't really taken it. I know that I have got to rediscover my top form, but I am confident that I can snap out of this bad spell and prove that I am worth a new deal.

"But then everyone who is out of contract will be hoping to do the same, because we are playing for our futures."